It could have been one of those watershed shows. A band throwing down in their hometown on a roomy stage, exploding with energy and the kind of sound that would, under many circumstances, blow people’s minds. On this night, the crowd, assembled to see Yeah Yeah Yeahs should have been hip enough to understand what they were watching. After all, Karen O. and her boys play the sort of warped tuneage you’d expect an open-minded audience to appreciate.
But when the Chinese Stars took the stage, with singer Eric Paul doing his patented epileptic two-step, they were met with awe and relative silence. In retrospect, even Karen O.’s hiccupy Toni Basil impersonation seemed mainstream in comparison. But the crowd, predisposed to edgy rock or not, had no idea what to think.
Of course, fans of the band, and there were many on hand, knew how cool it was. The Chinese Stars rocked the house. And the new Lupo’s at the Strand is one big house. Playing a handful of tracks from their EP and, perhaps, one or two from their upcoming project, Paul, bassist Rick Pelletier, drummer Craig Kureck, and guitarist Paul Vieira conjured up many ghosts from great bands of Providence past in the process: Six Finger Satellite, Von Ryan’s Express, Arab On Radar. Wider still, they dug up the corpses of international marauders like Gang of Four and Wire. OK, so maybe it was too abstract for a gang gathered to see a much-hyped band on a major label, but the fact is it was entertaining enough to have a slew of people dancing their buttocks off.
One of the great things about the band’s too-short opening set was that they obviously didn’t give much of a shit about what people watching them thought. They served up their sound as if to say, "Kiss off. This is what we do. If you don’t like it, go and get yourself another drink." Paul’s kinetic spasms at first seemed awkward, but his convulsions were perfectly synchronized to the Stars’ jerky rhythms. And speaking of rhythms, Kureck and Pelletier (himself a former drummer) acquitted themselves radically, kicking into deep, soulful tempos that never relented, one rhythm more sublime than the next, as they shifted gears up and down, often within the same song.
Vieira proves to be the ace up the Stars’ sleeve as he churns out squeaky, hyper-squealing riffs and scrubs that sounded more like odd malfunctions in an automobile assembly line than anything you’d hear coming from a guitar. With his help, and the practiced teamwork of an accomplished band, the Stars squeezed out the kind of shit you won’t hear anywhere else. This is why they could be the city’s next big thing. Could? Maybe "will" is the word.
"We got the gig because we’ve known Yeah Yeah Yeahs for four or five years now," Eric said after the show. "They opened for us way back when, before they blew up." He smiled at how quickly the music business can turn ironic.
One would think that the band’s over-the-top antics and freakazoid sound would make them a natural for New York City, and Eric confirmed it. "We’ve spent a lot of time in New York," he says. "The Village Voice, Blender, and Rolling Stone have all expressed interest, and we end up doing pretty well there."
New York’s not the only metropolis that has expressed an interest in the Stars. Since forming last year from the lamented ashes of Arab On Radar, the band has already saddled up and headed to Europe. "The last time we played Europe we sold out three-quarters of our shows just by calling ourselves ‘ex-members of Arab on Radar." They hit France, Belgium, and Italy hard and with lots of success. "We sold out a place in Paris with just the EP in place, so we were pretty happy," Eric noted.
The Stars will fill that recording void with a full-length disc this spring on 31G Records, home of the Locust, the Blood Brothers, and Moving Unit. With quality company like that, it’s a perfect fit for the band. "Justin Pearson at the label has a lot of respect from bigger labels," Eric said, "and they rely on him for developing bands." Eric and the Stars have also entered talks with a few majors, though nothing serious. Yet.
For now, the band is content to beaver away, recording and touring. They have a full US tour and a trip back to Europe planned for the not-so-distant future, hoping to lurch their way back into the hearts and minds of international audiences, like Six Finger Satellite and Arab On Radar did not so long ago. Hopefully, like those other bands, they’ll make all of us immensely proud.
TOO-CLOSECALL. Early on Monday, February 16, Randy Hien, the esteemed proprietor of the Living Room, had a visit from the Devil. This time Satan was disguised as a guy in an expensive SUV driving the wrong way on an exit ramp off Route 10. Randy got rammed head-on by the SUV, which was going an estimated 70 mph, piloted by a driver who allegedly failed a "chemical test." He was also slammed by the car behind him. He was unconscious until Thursday (the 19th).
"He’s been doing a lot better every day," says his son Charlie, who’s running the club while his dad concentrates on recovery. "He’s cracking jokes again, which makes us all feel better." According to Charlie, Randy’s list of injuries is staggering. He broke bones in his legs, ankles, and feet, and he has a broken clavicle, nose, pelvis, and ribs, not to mention the muscle and ligament damage. Charlie says he may be in the hospital for a month, then will likely be in rehab for months after that, either living in a center or commuting, depending on how quickly he gets back on his feet. But by the sound of his injuries, it’s a miracle the prognosis includes him getting back on his feet at all.
"There’s no defense for this guy," says Charlie, referring to the perp. "He has no answers. There’s nothing he can say."
What we can all say to Randy is, speedy recovery, sport, our thoughts and prayers are with you.
WANDERING EYE. Tomorrow’s News, a trio of talented dudes from around Kingston with an EP out, play the Rocky Point Pub on Thursday (the 26th). They do all original acoustic rock tunes, with a positive vibe and refreshing energy. It even sounds good on their website: www.tomorrowsnewsmusic.com.
On Saturday (the 28th), a couple of local folk legends play. Unfortunately it’s not together. Bill Petterson returns to the so-fine, renovated Blackstone River Theatre in Cumberland for an evening of intimate acoustic roots and Americana tunes. Kerri Powers shares the bill. For ticket/reservation info, call the Theatre at 725-9272 or go to www.riverfolk.org. The music begins at 8 p.m.
Not too far away at Stone Soup, acoustic stylist J.P. Jones will be captivating an audience of his own. Jones, who has released nine discs since the ’70s, has been compared to Greg Brown and Dylan for his unique approach to the folk idiom. He’ll be playing the Soup with his band, Rite Tite. The concert will be at the Boys & Girls Club of Pawtucket Arts Center (210 Main Street, Pawtucket). Tickets are $10. Call 457-7147.
You can reach me at email@example.com.
Issue Date: February 27 - March 4, 2004
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